Please note: I’ve received the rights back for this book. At this time, it has not been re-released for sale.
Randi Elon jumped into the shadow of the small hallway and pressed her back against the drywall, her Army-honed intuition kicking in. Something set her heart racing and her mouth drying to dust.
One of Disturbed’s heavy metal CDs blasted throughout the physical rehabilitation center, courtesy of her two physical therapists, for closing mood music. Damn. The fast-paced thumping did not help her identify the threat. She strained to listen over the wailing guitar.
Faint scraping reached her ears.
What the hell is that?
She searched the open space holding all of the therapy equipment. Mary, one of the PTs, sat on a bench protruding from the pulley machine talking to the other therapist, Hannah, standing by her side. The scraping wasn’t coming from them.
Without warning, a man with shoulder-length blond hair sprang from the backroom, holding a single-edged sword high. Sword? She blinked. Yep, definitely a sword. The blade, of average width near the hilt, thickened wickedly before narrowing into a deadly point. The florescent lights caught strange etchings cut onto the blood-red metal as he raced across the room.
Before Randi could react, the swordsman locked his arm around Hannah’s throat and yanked her against his chest. He jerked her to the side and kicked Mary in the head. The therapist fell off the bench with a thud, landing in an unconscious heap on the floor. He rested the tip of his sword underneath Hannah’s eye and uttered in a weird, raspy accent, “Not a word until I say you can scream.”
Hannah whimpered but remained silent, her body stiff except for her ribcage, which rose and fell far too fast. She motioned with just a movement of her wrist for Randi to stay put.
Randi backed deeper into the shadows, shame filling her with the cowardly act, but she couldn’t get her muscles to react any other way. EVIL! True Evil, screamed in her mind, forcing her to hide and follow Hannah’s directive.
The swordsman put his nose to Hannah’s hair and sniffed.
Oh, God. Randi’s stomach lurched. What the hell should she do? She had no weapons and her left arm bound in a sling, thanks to two bullets courtesy of Iraq, cobbled her movements. She clenched her fist, her nails digging into her palm. Her hometown of Hunt Valley, Pennsylvania was supposed to be her haven for healing. Not another violent war zone she’d so happily left behind.
A shudder coursed through Hannah and the swordsman rubbed himself into the therapist’s backside. Blood thundered in Randi’s ears as he slowly lowered the blade, scraping the point gently along the curves of Hannah’s body. Randi knew she had to stop this but her body refused to cooperate. She scanned the area and her gaze snagged on a patch of camo-green by the moist-heat station. Dammit. Her backpack containing her cell phone and car keys were on the other side of the room.
“I’m going to ask you a question and you better tell me the truth,” the swordsman demanded. “Where is Kaiden?”
“I-I-I don’t know,” Hannah stammered.
He wrenched her neck to the side. Hannah cried out at the unnatural angle. He slowly drew the razor-edge against the skin on her arm. The therapist screamed, tears running down her face as blood flowed from the long cut, dripping to the floor.
“I’m going to ask you again. Each time you don’t give me the correct answer, I’m going to use my blade. Where is Kaiden?”
“I don’t know!”
He wrestled her hand onto the bench and brought the sword down on her pinky finger.
Randi covered her mouth to catch her sob. Holy shi—
The swordsman’s head jerked up and he narrowed his gaze toward the shadows where she hid. She froze and held her breath. He squinted and inhaled deeply, his eyes at half-mast, when Hannah yanked her arm out of his grip. He whipped around and focused his attention on reclaiming it. Randi blew out a silent, shaky breath. Dammit. She was completely trapped.
The swordsman—no, scratch that—Psycho Swordsman watched the blood flow dispassionately before he yelled into Hannah’s face, “Heal it!”
Hannah blubbered something incoherently.
“Heal, goddammit!” he bellowed again.
Static electricity filled the air, causing the hair on Randi’s arms to stand on end. The current seemed to move toward the therapist and Randi watched in disbelief as Hannah’s finger regenerated and the gash on her arm disappeared.
What. The. Hell.
Psycho smiled. The evilness of it drove a shiver down Randi’s spine.
“I’m really going to enjoy this,” he crowed as he twirled the sword in his hand, drops of blood flinging in the air as it spun.
Minutes, hours, centuries passed; Randi couldn’t tell how long she stood locked against the wall. Twice she had tried to creep away and both times he had stopped his torture, searching in her direction. He even took a step toward her once but Mary’s groaning as she woke distracted him.
Randi had lost count of how many times the therapists had regenerated body parts including hands, fingers, feet and toes. No matter what he did, though, the answer was always the same: ‘I don’t know where Kaiden is.’
Who the hell is this Kaiden? Randi’s head pounded in time with the heavy metal music acting like a twisted soundtrack to the surreal scene. How could two women she spent so much time with hide an ability like regeneration? How was that even possible?
Psycho Swordsman studied the women huddled on the floor, crying in pools of their own blood. The stuff was everywhere. He grabbed Mary’s hand and slapped it on top of the bench.
Oh, God, here we go again.
Mary stared at the floor, her shoulders hunched with tears tracking down her cheeks. Psycho smirked as he brought the tip against her palm and carved a deep ‘Z’ into the center. “Do not heal that,” he barked, dropping her arm.
He did the same to Hannah’s palm, then lined their arms up. With a firm grip on their forearms, he raised his blade high and brought it down against their wrists. Blood shot out in streams as their sliced-off hands plunked to the floor. Randi clapped her hand over her mouth and swallowed against a lump of bile, almost gagging. Her therapists’ hoarse screams echoed off the walls, but he ignored them.
Psycho Swordsman drew his blood-covered sword back and pierced Hannah in the heart, then twisted the handle. He tugged at his weapon, using his foot to push her body away, then jammed the blade into Mary’s heart. He jumped back, clutching the severed hands as their screaming abruptly died.
Bright light flooded the room and a loud ‘crack!’ rattled the equipment. Hannah and Mary’s bodies disappeared. The only parts that remained were two severed hands and a massive amount of blood.
Kaiden pulled open the grimy glass door and the smell of stale cigarettes, pungent body odor, and beer hit him hard. The biker bar on the outskirts of Birmingham, Alabama had definitely seen better days.
Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” blared from an ancient jukebox and he couldn’t help smirking. How apropos. Even though the band was American, in his opinion, they ranked right up there with the classic bands of his fellow Brits. His eyes took a moment adjusting to the inadequate lighting; whether that was the bar’s design or default, he couldn’t tell.
Once he became acclimated, he scanned the rough clientele. Bloody hell. The local stores must have gone through their stock of denim and leather in one day. He peered at the sign above the door. He didn’t think the cleverly named RoadHouse Bar meant twisted gay bar, but what did he know? Even though he wore his own set of black leathers, he knew he would stand out; he always did. Not that he cared. As long as these humans stayed out of his way and didn’t fuck up this capture, he couldn’t concern himself with them.
The clientele seemed restless, as if they sensed a threat among them but didn’t know from where. Demons masquerading as humans tended to stir up a crowd. Better make this fast. He cataloged the place in one sweep. A couple of beat-up pool tables stood off to his left. Men challenged each other and placed bets at one table while half-naked women draped themselves over beer-bellied roughnecks in the heat of competition at the other. To his right were scarred wooden tables surrounded by vinyl booths with bottles of beer and half-eaten plates of something deep-fried. Straight ahead, a beat-up wooden bar sat unapologetically under neon advertising signs.
He eyed the patrons. His target sat by himself at the end of the counter with his back to the door. Not real bright, leaving himself vulnerable. No one spoke to the leather-clad man with the dirty braid bisecting his shoulder blades. The guy hunched forward, nursing a double shot of whiskey and fiddling with a bowl of nuts.
Kaiden strode across the room and clamped a hand on the demon’s shoulder. “You’re a sadistic son of a bitch, Snake.” He followed the friendly greeting with a right hook that snapped the guy’s head back. Wrapping his arm around the biker’s neck, Kaiden pulled him off the barstool, the wooden seat toppling to the dirty floor in his wake.
Women shrieked and men scrambled to get out of Kaiden’s way as he headed for the door. Snake drove his elbow into Kaiden’s gut, the impact forcing the breath out of him. The bastard took advantage of his loosened grip and twisted free.
Kaiden coughed to clear his lungs and straightened. Now that the ‘how-do-you-dos’ had been exchanged, it was time to take the demon out. He ducked as Snake’s fist swung at his face. Kaiden lunged and cold-cocked the son of a bitch right under the chin, sending the man flying through the air. He landed in a heap on top of a table, causing the customers to scatter as it tumbled on its side, throwing him on the floor along with a pile of ketchup-coated fries.
Kaiden strode after him ignoring the shouts and scuffling from the other patrons. “We can do this the easy way,” he drew his leg back, “or the fun way.” He harnessed a little bit of energy, channeled it to his black, steel-toe boot, and sent the guy flying through the air again. “For the record, ya bloody bastard, I vote the fun way.” Snake smashed into the cigarette machine beside the door, causing the glass to shatter and the dispenser to fall on top of him. Packs of smokes poured onto the floor and a few industrious patrons scrambled to grab as many as possible.
“You gotta pay for them!” the bartender yelled, but everyone ignored him.
Snake rolled to his hands and knees, spitting out blood as he pushed the machine away.
Two burly men, with more fat than muscle, stepped forward carrying pool cues. Kaiden held up a hand. “I suggest you blokes back off and let me handle this.” His voice carried just enough compulsion to strongly suggest they obey but not enough to break the infernal rules. Heaven forbid—literally—if Kaiden stripped a human of his free will to do what he commanded. Thankfully, the men halted and gave him a nod.
“You don’t need the shotgun, mate,” Kaiden stated with the same amount of compulsion, swinging his gaze to the bartender whose hands now froze behind the counter. “We’ll be gone in a moment.”
The unshaven, pock-marked man seemed to struggle with Kaiden’s ‘suggestion’ for a heartbeat before he finally put the gun back. He pivoted on his heel, grabbed a bottle of Jack Daniels and poured a double shot. Once he slammed the liquid down, he met Kaiden’s eyes and nodded.
Snake moaned and fumbled in his back pocket. Blood trickled from the side of his mouth as he grinned and brought out a switchblade.
“Good choice. The fun way it is.” Kaiden returned the smile, rolling his neck. He could have pulled the sword from its sheath strapped to his back but he hadn’t dropped the shield surrounding it when he walked into the bar. The insignificant humans might become a tad suspicious of his true origin if he suddenly materialized a blade out of thin air to counter Snake’s piddly knife.
Kaiden balanced on the balls of his feet and motioned for Snake to get up. Snake used the broken cigarette machine as a crutch and stood unsteadily.
The demon feinted a few times with the switchblade, but Kaiden didn’t flinch. Prats like him were a dime a dozen and always with the same moves. He wondered briefly if there was a course they all took on how to fight. If so, they should demand their money back.
Snake struck at that second while he mused. Stinging pain pulsated from his arm and he looked down at a five-inch gash in the leather. He flicked his gaze to the biker and found the man grinning victoriously.
“You just ruined my favorite jacket,” Kaiden stated in a steely, calm voice, his British accent at odds with the song blaring and the bar patrons now betting on their fight.
The demon cackled.
Right. Playtime’s over. Kaiden circled with Snake, waiting for him to strike again. He didn’t have to wait long. Snake bluffed to the right then lunged left, the metal of the switchblade flashing in the dim light. As the blade neared Kaiden’s heart, he captured Snake’s fist in both hands and twisted, throwing the demon off balance. He kept twisting until Snake bent over, his arm at an odd angle behind him. One more twist and Kaiden could break his arm. He shook the biker’s fist and applied pressure at just the right point on his wrist to hear the satisfying clatter of the knife hitting the floor.
Kaiden let go of Snake’s arm, harnessed more energy, and kicked him in the ass so hard he sent the man, head first, into the door. The biker crumpled into a heap and didn’t move.
Time for some damage control. He eyed the patrons. Some cheered as they pulled money out of their grumbling buddies’ hands. Others, mostly women—although there was one guy in the corner—assessed him like he was some new thrill ride in an amusement park and they suddenly wanted to take a spin.
Yeah, good luck with that.
He reached into the inside pocket of his leather coat and pulled out a roll of bills. After motioning to a nearby waitress, he peeled off ten, one-hundred dollar bills, then caught the bartender’s eye. “For the mess.” He dropped the money onto the astonished waitress’s tray and grabbed Snake’s ankles.
He flipped the demon onto his back and dragged him out the door, cutting through the long row of motorcycles parked up front. Kaiden dropped Snake’s legs once he reached a patch of scraggily trees that gave him enough cover from the casual passerby.
He drew his double-edged, black-handled sword and stomped his heavy boot on the now-awake bastard’s chest. Angelic writing covering the entire blade guaranteed the demon would never return to Earth again. Instead, Snake would spend the rest of eternity as a mindless spirit swimming in the Pit of Suffering. A fitting reward for the sadistic son of a bitch.
“I hope getting those humans to carry out your demented fantasies was worth it,” Kaiden said as he lifted his sword over his head.
Snake nodded and smiled.
“Bastard.” He thrust his sword down and severed Snake’s head from his spinal cord. Kaiden jumped back as flames engulfed the demon’s body, disintegrating it into nothing. Particles silently floated in the air before settling on the ground. He curled his lip in disgust. What a waste of his time. The demon wasn’t even good enough to get his heart rate up. He kicked at the ashy substance. To send someone like him after a baby demon was like launching a missile when all you needed was a pop gun. Shit.
“What had Michael been thinking?” he muttered.
“That if I didn’t get you out of my face, I was going to let Hasdiel pound you into the ground.”
Kaiden’s spine tightened at the sound of the Archangel’s voice and he slowly turned to face him.
Bloody hell. What now?